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Critical Reception: Lionhead/Activision's The Movies

This week's Critical Reception takes a look at Peter Molyneux's long in development, lovingly assembled rendition of Hollywood, via the Lionhead-developed, Activision-pub...
This week's Critical Reception takes a look at Peter Molyneux's long in development, lovingly assembled rendition of Hollywood, via the Lionhead-developed, Activision-published strategy title The Movies for the PC. Allowing you to run your own movie studio, as well as create your own movies (which can be easily converted to video formats for sharing), The Movies was received reasonably well by video game critics, earning an average rating of 83% on game review compilation site GameTab. Coupling a Tycoon-style Hollywood simulation with all the tools to make your own movie, the game sets you as the head of a new studio circa 1920. The premise is to grow and manage your studio through the various ages of Hollywood film-making leading up to present day. As far as the Tycoon aspect goes, GameSpot's Ryan Davis explains that "...you play master and commander of your very own Hollywood movie studio, hiring and firing staff, building facilities, and, of course, producing and releasing movies." In the course of making movies, "...you can choose to either let your studio machine determine the content of your films, or you can go hands-on with the game's built-in moviemaking tools, which peg a good balance between accessibility and flexibility." While the Tycoon aspect of the game is "solid, if unspectacular" according to 1UP's Garnett Lee, "...the most anticipated part of The Movies isn't even the game; it's the ability to make your own movies, and it doesn't disappoint. The tools are here to make truly sophisticated productions, complete with your own soundtracks, voiceovers and special effects." Yahoo! Games' Mike Smith concurs, suggesting that "...the more original and interesting by far, is the game's set of tools for creating your own movies. After choosing a genre, you can string together scenes chosen from a vast list of templates -- a fight, a close-up on an actor's face, a zooming establishing shot -- then choose the set, weather, lighting, backdrop, camera effects, actors, costumes, props, and tweak the exact behavior of everything to your heart's content." However, GameSpot's Davis notes, in a comment echoed by other more casual reviewers: "Both parts of The Movies can be engrossing and time-consuming, but they feel more like parallel products rather than an integrated whole." As far as the game's shortcomings, there was really no clear consensus on any particular point. Each reviewer had different things to say: GameSpot's Davis complains of a "disconnect between the business management and the filmmaking." Yahoo!'s Smith cites "...weaknesses in the economic model... beyond star and director salaries and marketing spend, there just aren't economic levers to pull." Finally, 1UP's Lee remarks, "It becomes an awful lot to keep up with as your studio becomes a major player, compounded by the AI's relative inefficiency at doing things for itself ... It takes repeatedly putting a couple together to create the chemistry that will be invaluable when they work together on the set. The same sort of manual repetition holds true for other areas you want to develop." Overall, The Movies' two disparate parts still sit reasonably well with reviewers, even if they can't reach a consensus over its best points. But if the generally held notion that everyone wants to make their own movie holds true, The Movies stands to do quite well at the PC retail level for Lionhead and Activision, especially with relatively few products competing with The Sims and exhibiting a human-interest bent.

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